New Haven

Keep on truckin’

A host of food trucks have made international cuisine easy to find outdoors.

Mark Zurolo ’01MFA

Mark Zurolo ’01MFA

It’s a new kind of truck stop. The parking lot at Ingalls Rink hosts around 14 food trucks a day, and students are eating it up. View full image

It’s a caravan of vegetables and cooked meats, a fleet of fried delicacies, a convoy of comfort foods, a slowed-to-a-crawl drag race of lunch and dinner. They stream in from Hamden (Ali Baba’s Fusion, with its signature “Bengali Burritos”), West Haven (“Zuppardi’s Apizza”), and from the Forbes and Whitney avenues of New Haven.

Then, for the convenience of the ravenous downtown lunch crowd, they park and serve.

New Haven is already known regionally for its restaurants. But in recent years, what was once an unsung and overlooked side street of culinary convenience has become a main foodie thoroughfare. The days when food truck menus were largely limited to hot dogs, gyros, and pretzels are gone. A stroll down Cedar Street on a typical midweek afternoon will offer you a choice of Italian, Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Indian, and Ethiopian specialties. The first-ever New Haven Food Truck Festival took place last spring at one of the first and still most prominent food truck stops in the city—Long Wharf Park, between I-95 and New Haven Harbor. A second one is in the works for June 4 and 5 of this year.

There have been a few growing pains. When the city recently began enforcing regulations that prohibit trucks from operating in residential zones, two popular food trucks that park in the Broadway district—Caseus (gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches) and Ay! Arepa—were told they had to move, and fast. The unexpected crackdown made local headlines. Although New Haven has since apologized for its handling of the situation, and the two trucks have found new locations nearby, the city has said the enforcement will continue.

The trucks keep coming. Certain Yale neighborhoods—particularly by the medical school on Cedar Street and in the Ingalls Rink parking lot, near the science buildings along Prospect—have become coveted spots. At least one cart owner eventually opted for a brick and mortar restaurant: Crêpes Choupette, which started as a bike cart outside the Yale Art Gallery, now has a storefront on Whitney Avenue near Grove. More typical is Thai Awesome, which expanded its Hamden restaurant operation by adding a truck at one of Yale’s main lunch hubs.

It’s a business with its own complications. The mobile restaurants have to follow the same safety regulations as their stationary counterparts, but they also contend with the challenges of limited preparation space, unpredictable weather, and having a dozen competitors parked just a few feet away. As the Broadway kerfuffle suggests, numerous local parking and vending ordinances also have to be taken into consideration.

But the pleasant aroma that lingers downtown after lunch makes it clear that food trucks are here to stay. On any given day you may find more than a dozen trucks in the Ingalls Rink lot, offering an array of appetizers, salads, and entrees. Dessert? It’s usually found on Prospect Street, courtesy of the Cannoli Truck and the Sugar Cupcake Truck.

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